Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ranchers: New High Plains bomber training better, cows not spooked

BISMARCK, N.D. — Two years after the Air Force opened a massive training complex over the Northern Plains, ranchers who have complained about the military aircraft exercises say progress has been made in addressing their concerns, thanks in large part to a new advisory group. Beginning Tuesday, military planes from bases in eight states will take part in Combat Raider, a three-day exercise in the Powder River Training Complex. The 35,000-square-mile complex over the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming is the largest over the continental U.S. “I enjoy them when they’re up in the air flying at the right height. I’m tickled to death they’re protecting us,” said Jody McCoid, who ranches cattle in northwestern South Dakota. “But when they fly low, you can’t hear anything, and it sure disrupts everything. I’ve had spooked calves hit the fence.” The Federal Aviation Administration approved quadrupling the training airspace in March 2015. The expanded complex officially opened in September of that year, with large-scale exercises such as Combat Raider limited to 10 days per year. The FAA provides notice of such exercises, but ranchers and civilian pilots have asked for more information about flights and for a better system of reporting disturbances that range from rattled windows and scared farm animals to unsafe airspace. Air Force officials have previously agreed to steps such as posting notices in local newspapers and late last year began meeting with an advisory council spearheaded by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, an advocacy group for general aviation pilots. One positive that has resulted is more direct communication between the Air Force and the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. “Just being able to call somebody when we have a complaint — and knowing who to contact — has been a big help,” Executive Director Silvia Christen said. “The next step is addressing some of those concerns and complaints that come in.”...more

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